This year Punch Up Collective hosted our seventh contribution to recognizing May Day in Ottawa: a kid-centred picnic and short march. We wanted to share something about why this was so fun and to reflect a little on including kids and families in these kinds of celebrations, and the difference between including them and focusing events on kids and families.
We’ve done a mix of things to recognize May Day – sometimes events, sometimes workshops or other things that we hope contribute to carrying on the legacy of struggle for dignity and joy for everyone. Our first May Day event, in 2015, was a called “All In: Worker Organizing Beyond the Mainstream Labour Movement.” It was a panel featuring people talking about sex work, migrant labour, harm reduction workers, and drug users. As part of our planning for the event, we paid a local comrade who ran a daycare to bring toys and activities and set up a kids space. No one brought their kids. That same year we ran a workshop called “Planning to be Good to Each Other” about building social harm reduction practices in radical groups; again we set up childcare, again no kids were there.
In 2016, we organized a showing of the Lego movie at a community centre, with a video projector, legos, and popcorn. A bunch of families came (and we, none of whom at the time had kids, had a chance to marvel at how many of the under-ten crowd had the whole Lego movie memorized, and at the sheer volume of popcorn kids can consume!). The next year we stepped back from publicly-oriented May Day organizing after the Revolutionary Communist Party took over the planned events. Instead, we hosted a potluck at a private house with no formal childcare situation, and a bunch of kids came. This was fun partially because there were also a bunch of non-parent people who really liked hanging out with the kids and their caregivers. And so the year after that, 2019, we decided to have a more elaborate potluck, with activities and someone explicitly ready to hang out with kids, at a local community centre. Very few people came at all, and only a few kids. It was a bummer.
A normal collective might look at this litany and decide that there just isn’t the need in the local radical left to have formal kid care available at our events generally and May Day in particular. 2020’s May Day was the first one under the shadow of the pandemic, and we instead doubled down on trying to do something with kids in mind: we paid a local artist friend to make colouring pages under the label “Quarantine Capitalism,” and we shared them both here in Ottawa and online. People sent us wonderful pictures of people of all ages colouring these pages in and posting them up in public places.
In 2021, exhausted by zoom events and not prepared to gather in person, we sent out a May Day greeting card by mail. Last year, still not willing to get people together in person but reflecting on what we were hearing from people wanting more space to understand how to work together, we offered an online version of our workshop about how and why to build effective collectives.
So, that brings us up to this year. The pandemic is still ongoing, the weather in Ottawa at the beginning of May is very unpredictable, and still we decided to have an in-person, kid-focused thing outdoors. We were inspired by the 1947 Candy Bar Protest, when kids went on strike to bring the price of candy bars back down to 5 cents; this started in B.C. but circulated across the Canadian context, including actions in Calgary, Edmonton, Winnipeg, Montreal, Quebec City, Ottawa, Toronto, and the Maritimes. We consulted with some of our parent friends about our idea to have a kids parade with noisemakers (parents responded, “Have you considered that kids are noisemakers?”), story reading, and a banner making. They all said, “Sounds good! Not sure if we’ll be able to make it!”
It was raining hard on our planned date, and we had to postpone to the following Saturday morning. If you aren’t a parent, you may not know that Saturday mornings are for whatever reason the main time where – if you’ve been lucky enough to register for gymnastics or swimming between 9 PM when the city portal opens and 9:02 PM when everything is full – kids have Activities. So we rolled up to our planned location with our banner, noisemaker-making supplies, snacks, red and black flag, and queer flag, but without a lot of hope that any kids would come. At seven minutes after the planned start time, one of us asked, “How long should we give it before we pack it in?” and we spent some time reflecting on whether it had all been a mistake. We tried to call the person who’d agreed to contribute music to tell him maybe not to come. Luckily, he was biking over with his guitar, and so he missed our call, and thus was there when, bit by bit, a whole bunch of adults and kids showed up. Some people knew one another, many others didn’t know anyone. The kids got right down to work making drums out of buckets, shakers out of paper plates taped together with beans and grains inside, and decorating other noisemakers. Others drifted over to draw flowers, hearts, and other more mysterious things on our “Everything for Everyone” banner. People had snacks, and listened to a reading of Candy Bar War, and then some May Day themed songs. And at a certain point we got together to sing and march around.
It was a really beautiful day. Most of the kids there were between one and six. Many of the adults were aging anarchists, and many of us hadn’t seen one another for many years, since even before the pandemic started. This was the first thing since 2020 that we’d hosted in person and it felt weird and good to be together. We had thought that we’d be contributing just one piece to a bigger set of May Day celebrations in our city, but in the end this small event was the only observance in Ottawa. This has made us reflect on how we direct our energy for future years.
Although we’d invited people who aren’t parents or caregivers, mostly the people who came were pretty directly connected to the kids there in one way or another. Even though we reached out to parents we know, we didn’t connect with organizers in town like the folks working with Child Care Now, who are campaigning for universal publicly-funded childcare, nor did we reach out to our anarchist librarian friends who host kid-centred events in public spaces in Ottawa to see if they had ideas for activities leading up to the parade that might have brought in people we didn’t already know. In general, we were not thinking sufficiently strategically about the context in which we wanted to participate.
Of course, it’s also nice to just have a social space to celebrate May Day with other radicals. But even if that’s the goal, hosting public events where there’s space for people who don’t already know one another to meet needs to be deliberate and thoughtful. We’ve tried to practice this by moving from a model where we have existing events and just add child care to them to hosting more events that are explicitly political and that are conceptualized as being for kids and families from the start. Looking at other organizing that maintains a steady commitment to always offering something meaningful for kids to do, we think that this is not only worth doing but also just much more fun than the bifurcated spaces we see so much on the left, where things are either only for kids or only for adults. But figuring out the balance on this is still a work in progress for us.